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Camden native Cpl. Teneka Mercado serving in eastern Afghanistan

Posted: October 18, 2012 3:55 p.m.
Updated: October 19, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Cpl. Teneka Mercado

PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Most of the young men and women serving in today’s armed forces were children or teenagers on 9/11, watching the attacks on the World Trade Center on the news. The majority of their adult lives have since been forged by the nation’s need for great men and women in uniform.

These men and women, the Army’s newest generation of soldiers, continue to answer the call to arms. Cpl. Teneka Mercado, a 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division soldier serving in Afghanistan, is one of them.

“I was in seventh grade during the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in my English class,” recalls the Camden, S.C., native. “I remember my teacher running into our classroom crying and frantic. We didn’t know what was going on, but we knew it was chaos.”

Seven years later, Mercado was on her way to join the fight that started that tragic day. But her path to service wasn’t always clear, and she had some life-changing decisions to make along the way.

“I went to college first for a year for mass communications, which really didn’t work out for me. My mom, Elizabeth Dixon, was a recruiter instructor at the time and told me the ins and outs of the Army,” said Mercado.

“I never thought that I would have joined the Army,” she said, “but after a long conversation with my mom, she showed me the pay charts of a mass communications major and an Army private -- they evened out.”

“I knew that if my mom could do it for 22 years, I could follow in her footsteps. I wanted to make an impact on our country just as she did,” she said.

Mercado joined the Army in the summer of 2008, enlisting as a human resource specialist.

The Army in turn led Mercado to another big life change. Soon after joining, she found the love of her life, Staff Sgt. Julian Mercado, a forward observer who is also deployed to Afghanistan.

“Being able to serve my country gives me an enormous sense of pride. I’ve never been more proud to be an American until the day I stepped foot in Afghanistan. It’s just kind of crazy out here, but the fight still has to continue,” she said.

Now an experienced soldier, Mercado talked about what she’s learned as a human resource specialist at Fort Riley, Kan., and here in Afghanistan.

“One thing I’ve learned out here is that customer service is always a main point for the soldiers,” said Mercado.

Issues like pay problems can cause undue stress to soldiers in combat, she said.

“We try to remain friendly and help them as much as we can so they don’t have to worry and can continue on their mission,” she said.

In war there are casualties, Mercado said, and she knows her role in that, as well.

“I know that I’m in the first line of information when we receive casualties. We know that their families have to be notified and it does break your heart,” she said. “You just know that you have to drive on, know that they’re in the better place and continue the mission.”

“I may not be out there fighting the fight, but just being here supporting everybody still makes us a part of the team,” she added.

In the end, she describes the Army as a family. The ties and bonds built here are strong and endless, she said.

“It’s like family away from family,” said Mercado. “You’ll always have someone by your side.”

(Sgt. Gene Arnold is a writer for DVIDS, the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System.)


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